Chanel, Dior, Yves Saint-Laurent, Givenchy… if France is the birthplace of these superstar fashion brands, then surely Paris is the fashion capital of the world. Whatever the season, you’re bound to experience Paris’ fashion force wherever you go in the city: many wide Haussmannian boulevards are lined with polished boutiques where striking Parisian ladies waft by in a haze of Chanel No.5. But why is France (and Paris) so intimately linked with the fashion world?
It all began in the 17th century with the court of Louis XIV, who made the French luxury goods trade a royal commodity. Thus when the craft of haute couture (fitting clothing to a specific client) flourished in the late 19th century, seamstresses and tailors had no choice but to establish their premises in France. Coco Chanel was the famous game-changer in the 1920s with the design of her loose-fitting garments that allowed women to break free from restrictive corsets; and 40 years later it was Yves Saint-Laurent who put Paris in the spotlight again with his prêt-à-porter (‘ready to wear’) line, which made fashion accessible to the masses.
So, where exactly should you go to soak up the very best of Paris’ fashion? Put these 5 shopping streets on your list…
Avenue des Champs-Élysées Cliché perhaps, but the most famous and – many would argue – the best, with a splendid view of the Arc de Triomphe to boot. A two-kilometre blur of mass-market flagship stores, you can find almost anything you’re looking for here; any label worth its salt is likely to have an address on the Champs-Élysées.
Rue de Rivoli To feel like a true Parisian fashionista, wander along the elegant, arcaded Rue de Rivoli, one of Paris’ longest streets bordering the Jardin des Tuileries. If you follow it along as far as Place de l’Hôtel de Ville you’ll come to BHV, a popular department store, and in the surrounding Marais district some of Paris’ best vintage and second-hand stores can be found – ideal for relaxed Sunday browsing and bagging a bargain.
Rue St-Honoré This 1st-arrondissement street is split into two: rue du Faubourg-St-Honoré is the shoutier half, housing Hermès and Yves Saint-Laurent and Valentino, while rue St-Honoré is awash with smaller boutiques. It’s where you’ll find edgy cult store Colette, a French clothing and accessory retailer housed in an 8,000-square-foot, three-storey building.
Boulevard Haussmann Heard of Le Printemps and Galeries Lafayette? This street in the 9th arrondissement is where you can find these giant historic department stores, with themed floors and more fashion and cosmetics than your wallet could ever do justice. Look out for Lafayette’s gravity-defying tree at Christmas time.
Avenue Montaigne Could this be Paris’ most glamorous shopping street? Haute couture garments are created at Dior and Ungaro salons on the avenue, while retail ready-to-wear stores, including Chanel, Prada, Giorgio Armani, Ferragamo, Celine, Louis Vuitton, Valentino, Nina Ricci, Roberto Cavalli, Akris, Dolce and Gabbana and Ralph Lauren, are temptingly bunched side by side.
Don’t fancy braving the boutiques alone? Try one of Paris’ guided shopping tours. A handful of fashion and shopping experts will guide you through the myriad brands and names available in Paris to find the outfit or object of your dreams. Major department stores also provide a shopping service that takes their visitors smoothly through the maze of designer names on offer: just the thing for successful shopping! Available Monday to Saturday for half days from 10.45am-1.45pm or from 3pm-6pm, or a whole day from 10.45am-4.45pm. www.parisshoppingtour.com
And trendy culture vultures should take note: 2017 was the year for two new permanent fashion-related openings in Paris. Head to the French capital to visit the Musée Yves-Saint Laurent at 5 avenue Marceau, home to the Fondation Pierre Bergé-Yves Saint Laurent and where the designer worked for almost 30 years. An exhibition devoted to Christian Dior also opened at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs on 6 July. Marking the 70th anniversary of the Dior fashion house, there will be 70 individual pieces on display, accompanied by texts on the history of the fashion house and photographs from shows.